Two weeks ago the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed a 2009 Scott County defense verdict in a medical malpractice case and remanded the case for a new trial. Here is a link to the Court’s opinion in Merchant v. Forest Family Practice Clinic and Dr. John Lee. Dr. Lee is the son of the Sheriff of Scott County.

The Court’s opinion considered several issues raised by plaintiff on appeal. The Court rejected most of the issues, but reversed and remanded the case for a new trial due to juror misconduct.

Facts:

During the trial defense counsel asked the following question to plaintiff’s expert witness:

as far as your medical legal business picking up, can you tell me if you’ve been retained as an expert in the case where [counsel for the Estate] is suing Dr. Howard Clark just up the road?

That’s right, in a conservative venue with a huge home field advantage, defense counsel played the “these guys are suing another popular doctor” card. [Guys, you really don’t need to push the envelope in places like Scott County, since you get jurors like the one you had in this case.] 

After the trial, a juror signed an affidavit that stated that another juror said during deliberations:

that he had been a patient of both Dr. Lee and Dr. Clark. That both were good doctors and that we the jury could not ‘let those attorneys keep taking money from our doctors.‘ and that he continued to refer to [the other lawsuit] in an attempt to persuade his fellow jurors to vote in favor of Dr. Lee. (emphasis added).

Shane and Rebecca Langston of Jackson represented the plaintiff. Defense attorneys were Anastasia Jones, Mildred Morris, James Becker and Tim Sensing all of Watkins Eager in Jackson. Judge Marcus Gordon was the trial judge.

The Court’s Opinion:

The Court quoted several voir dire questions where the juror at issue did not admit that he was a patient of the defendant or had knowledge of facts that were relevant to the issues in the case. The Court ruled that the juror’s references in deliberations to Dr. Lee as a good doctor and the separate lawsuit against Dr. Clark, ‘another good doctor’ “reveals a decision guided by neither the evidence admitted nor the circuit court’s instructions of law.”

The Court determined that this was juror misconduct that compromised the estate’s right to a fair, impartial and competent jury. The Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial.

Justice Randolph wrote the Court’s opinion, which unanimously reversed on the issue of juror misconduct.

My Take:

I have a lot of respect for the defense lawyers in this case. I’m going to assume that they got a little carried away in cross-examination, which can happen. Luckily, the question helped expose an apparently dishonest juror.

I will have a long post on Wednesday about my take-away from this decision.